Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What's The Most Important Job You'll Ever Have?

There is a saying among recruiters and human resources people that a candidate is only as good as his or her last job.  That is why your most important job is the one you have now.

When looking for a job, all companies, not just ad agencies, are looking to see how successful you are likely to be if you join them.  They measure your potential based on your previous successes, including your current job.  You have to be successful where you are now – even if you hate it. 

If  it turns out that you are in the wrong place, you must do the best you can do where you are.  Never give up.  You must build a record of achievement.  And, most important, you must be able to describe that success as you interview. (It is why people who just complain and are negative on an interview get dinged.)

Even if the job has been misrepresented, your boss is an idiot, your client is impossible or all of the above, you must achieve success where you are and be able to articulate those achievements.  You should be able to tell why you are looking in just a few words, without being negative, but at the same time tell what you have accomplished, even if you have been there only a short time.

The trick in moving forward is to know what you want and to be able to make connections between what you have previously done and what you are looking for.  If you want something that you don’t have, e.g. if you are on the client side and want an agency (or vise-versa), you know that ad agencies are reluctant to hire you.  However, if you connect what you have been doing to the essence of what you want, you may find yourself with a job offer.  For instance, if you are a client, it isn't enough to say that your favorite part of the job is working with the agency; you must be able to convince agency people that you belong on their side of the business.  Or, in another instance, if you want package goods and don’t have it but are able to relate your strategic experience to the account you are interviewing for in very specific terms, you stand a far better chance of success.

I have written (ranted and raved, actually) about the bugaboo of category experience.  But if you can make what you are doing now relevant to where you want to go, you may succeed in getting a new category.

The trick is to articulate what you do in a successful manner and relate it to the person/account you are interviewing with.  Making difficult changes can happen by the force of your personality.  I have known many people who have done the almost impossible – moving from client to agency, from non-package goods right to Procter or Unilever, etc.  They do it because when they interview they are definite, sure of themselves and can convince their interviewers that taking a chance on them is no risk at all.  The way they do it is by articulating the connections between where they are, what they accomplished and where they want to be.  They make their successes relevant to the potential new job.

Sometimes, it has to be a multi-step process.  I have known people who have taken a step back in their careers, both in title and in money so that they get what they really want.  I have always believed that in a career, there is an important thread and that one thing leads to another.  

However, in evaluating any new job, every person must ask themselves these questions: "What if I hate this job and leave it quickly? What will it get me in terms of my career?  Where will it lead me?"  And, finally, ask yourself if you can succeed.

Just remember, even if you hate your current job, it is critical to your future that you do it to the best of your ability.


  1. "Never give up. You must build a record of achievement." I think this is brilliant insight, Paul. In fact, I bet if people took your advice, a good percentage might actually fall back in love with the job. You're essentially reminding people to stay engaged -- to find the ways they can add value and be successful. That should lead to recognition.

  2. I always say to people that if I started a new job today and at lunchtime had an interview left over from my job hunt, I would tell how this morning I was successful at reorganizing the files I was given. There is a positive story in everything. I especially appreciate your comment because it is correct.

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  4. Great point of view and very helpful to people to say that an interviewer is always looking to reduce risk in hiring you. Great insight for people looking, Paul. Not enough people think about that.

    1. @Anon: Being success oriented is critical to anyone's future. All too many people come to see me and tell me about their jobs and never talk about what they have accomplished in them. So when they leave, I have no idea what they have done or can do. Same on any job interview.

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  7. "you must do the best you can do where you are" ~ best piece of advice a professional can get.

  8. It is absolutely true, I have had the opportunity to work with one of the best client and the not soo good client. However, if you keep your focus on the delivery of results irrespective of the situation, you produce good results. This in turn connects with what the article says that when you go for that next job interview you have your accomplishments to talk about.
    excellent article.
    Thank you.

  9. Well, what if you cannot clearly state any tangible results? What do you say then in interviews? Do you try to just focus on discussing how you made improvements? I mean not everyone, especially at the beginning of their careers, is results-driven. But it appears like most people expect you to be, or at least think you should be, and what if you're not? You have to BS your way through interviews?

    What do you say in interviews then? What if you have to pretend to be so confident about your first long-term job, just so you can move on into a job you'll actually enjoy?

    1. That seems to be a very defensive and almost angry response. There is always something that can be accomplished, even in an entry level job. I always say to people that if someone, somehow, interviewed me on my first day of a new job, I would tell them what I have already accomplished, even if it meant that I told them that I met and introduced myself to the staff and told them who I was. You should always be proud of what you do.

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